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Post-modern Controlling vs Classical Financial Controlling

When it comes to financial controlling, many CEOs and even CFOs mention that it is boring. After all, controlling rotates around themes such as financials reliability and accuracy, predictability of the forecasting, solid safeguards in place, sound accounting, compliance. And immediately after this, the same senior leaders can be heard saying: “well, this way it should also stay”. Nobody’s hiring a controller to be creative and change the accounting standards, right?
Yet, when you browse through the job descriptions (and through the magazine interviews), the set of skills required looks different. Besides a long list of standard attributes (as per below), the differentiating factors ask for a different story. Many employers list (even in their performance reviews) required attributes such as:
– critical view on the business
– (being a) sparring partner for the CEO/business leader (maybe a hats down to characters such as Dr. Watson)
– change agent, especially for the local ERPs
– strong communication skills … and the list goes on

At a first glance it seems odd to me that the very same controllers are asked on one hand to be rigorous, never mindful of over-times, finishers – and on the other had they are to be open-minded, flexible, over-communicating and acting as internal consultants. Basically, the business leaders are expecting the controllers to be a modified version of themselves, with a higher focus on technical (financial) knowledge.
Of course, all of these are ideal requirements. Yet, they tell an interesting story – the story of how post-modern controlling should look like.
Classical controlling is focused on reporting the numbers in the correct structure, according to solid accounting principles, observing a (relatively complex) set of regulations (mostly GAAPs) and all of this – in time. It focuses heavily on using whatever tools (ERPs, teams, hardware, external resources e.g. auditors) are on hand. And if this is achieved, classical controlling (has to) move to the next iteration – next reporting cycle, next year, next business line opening. And increment again the above mentioned approach. No vanilla flavour, no extras, otherwise you block the system!

Post-modern controlling of course goes beyond that. I am fortunate enough to have worked with several brilliant finance VPs/CFOs – and they all share a fantastic ability to push controlling beyond the traditional boundaries. (Being solid CFOs, they also poses the strategic clout to design, push and monitor these changes over the minimal breakeven point where most of these projects tend to stop.). So post-modern controlling focuses on fixing the reporting system, then on moving to influencing the real substance of the business, as well as providing continuous support to the key business decisions. Post-modern controlling is never 100% happy with the current state of affairs in finance – if it is, it means it starts to settle.

Post-modern controlling focuses on continuously improving the tools in hand, in challenging the organization to do better, and on quickly fixing the various issues that inevitably tend to appear in the modern organizations. After all, keeping an open mind and scanning continuously the environment for opportunities to improve can only lead to faster reporting, better numbers management and better motivated associates – and who does not want this?

Well, this is how it should work, at least in theory. Looking forward for your comments!

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